A Disturbing Discovery

Disclaimer: the topics discussed in this blog post include descriptions of murder, torture and rape. Reader discretion is advised.


It was around a year ago that Underground Overground Archaeology again hit the mainstream news, this time with stories about our excavations at the site of the new Court Theatre (a few of those stories here, here, and here). While it’s great when media outlets publish stories about the archaeological work that we do, there are definitely pros and cons to the pieces. The main pro is, of course, that a much wider range of people get to hear about the archaeological work that we do in Christchurch, rather than just those that follow us on social media or keep up with this blog. The cons are that because the journalists that are reporting the stories aren’t archaeologists and often have word or time limits to keep to, their stories can be quite brief and often focus in on the stereotype that the only thing us archaeologists are interested in is ‘treasure’. Now, don’t get me wrong, us archaeologists are the first to get excited when we find a rare or unusual artefact, but we’re not pirates. For us, the real ‘treasure’ is the stories that the artefacts tell us about the lives of people of the past, rather than the artefacts themselves. Working out those stories comes long after excavation is finished and only happens once we have gone through all of the information we’ve collected, the notes on the features that we took when we excavated them, the results of the artefact analysis, and the information that we can draw from the historical record, and see what these three information sources, along with anything else we might have access to, can tell us. A lot of the time when we’re getting mainstream media interest, it’s at the time of the archaeological excavation, meaning that we haven’t yet worked out all the interesting stories as we are only at the start of figuring them out. That was very much the case when we were being interviewed about the Court Theatre site, where one of the ‘treasures’ that the journalists were most interested in was a clay pipe. A year later, we are now at a point where we’ve done most of the artefact analysis and we can actually start to narrow down some of those stories that the artefacts from the site are able to tell us.

A classic example of the use of ‘treasure’ by the mainstream media. While they’re not wrong, it does perpetuate the stereotype of archaeologists as Indiana Jones type figures, which is very much not the case. Image: Otago Daily Times.

The clay pipe in question is probably the most violent and confronting artefact that we’ve had come out of an archaeological site in Christchurch, at least in recent years. The pipe was elaborately moulded and depicted a man, wearing a turban and Indian style dress, holding a sword above his shoulder, ready to strike. Next to him is a woman lying with one arm raised, her chest bare and her dress pooled at her waist. A baby lies at her feet. A woman is shown fleeing on the side of the bowl. Stamped on the stem of the pipe was “NA NA SAIB” and “DELHI”.

Image: C. Watson

The clay pipe is depicting an event known as the Bibighar massacre, which took place within the 1857 Indian Rebellion. This rebellion happened when sepoys, or Indian soldiers, mutinied against the East India Company. The East India Company had had a presence in India since the early 17th century, and by the 19th century was effectively responsible for the government of India and was employing sepoys within their army. The reasons behind the mutiny were complicated but were mainly a result of an accumulation of grievances, mostly around the structure of the army and treatment of the sepoys, and the treatment of landowners and high-status individuals by the British. Sepoys in Meerut and Delhi mutinied against the British officers in May of 1857, with the rebel sepoys taking control of Delhi. News of the mutinies spread, with sepoys in some regions also rebelling, while in other regions sepoys fought for the British. In June of 1857, the sepoys under the leadership of the British General Wheeler at Cawnpore (Kanpur) mutinied. This led to the Siege of Cawnpore, where General Wheeler, the British soldiers, and their families, were trapped by the rebel sepoys in an entrenchment for three weeks with little water or food. The siege came to an end on the 27th of June when Nana Saib, an Indian nobleman who was a prominent leader in the rebellion, offered safe passage to Wheeler and the British to the nearby river where they could board boats and leave Cawnpore. Wheeler trusted Nana, as prior to the rebellion he had been an ally to the East India Company. However, upon reaching the riverbank and beginning to board the boats, the Indian sepoys opened fire on the British, resulting in many casualties. The 120 women and children that survived the massacre were re-captured and taken as captives. They were taken to a local house, Bibighar, with a group of another 80 women and children captured from another town later also taken to the house. On July 15, this group of women and children were massacred in a brutal killing.

Sir Joseph Noel Paton painted In Memoriam in 1858 in honour of the victims of the Bibighar massacre. We suspect that this painting was one of the source works that inspired the design of the pipe, particularly the positioning of the central woman and child.

The Chamber of Blood’ is a tinted lithograph by Vincent Brooks after Lieutenant C W Crump, Madras Artillery, No. 2. It was part of the series ‘A Pictorial Record of the Cawnpore Massacre’ published by Henry Graves and Co., London, in 1858.

A memorial to the women and children killed in the massacre was erected by the British. The memorial is built over the well in which the women and children’s bodies were thrown.Image: S. Bourne.

Many reasons have been suggested for why the women and children were killed. Some historians have suggested that they were killed in the hope that it would stop East India Company forces from approaching Cawnpore. Others have suggested that it was to stop information from being leaked to the British if Cawnpore fell, or to undermine Nana Saib’s relationship with the British, or that it was simply an act of revenge for British murders of Indian civilians. Following the massacre at Bibighar, British soldiers retook Cawnpore and took the sepoys as prisoners. The British forced the sepoys to lick the blood that stained the walls and floors of the Bibighar as punishment. They were then hung, or ‘blew from the cannon’, a method of execution where the victim is tied to the mouth of a cannon, which is then fired. This method was used by the British in India as it destroyed the body and prevented Hindu and Muslim funerary rites from being carried out on the victim.  By the end of 1857, the British had largely regained control, with the final rebels defeated in June of 1858. The acts that took place as part of the Indian Mutiny included atrocious acts of violence by both sides. The rebellion resulted in the dissolution of the East India Company by the Government of India Act 1858, with the governing of India transferred to the British Crown.

Going back to the clay pipe that we found at the Court Theatre site, from an example in the Amsterdam Pipe Museum we know that the pipe was manufactured by French pipe manufacturers L. Fiolet. Louis Fiolet was a French pipe manufacturer based as St. Omer. Fiolet took over his grandfather’s business in 1834, adopting the usage of the ‘L. Fiolet’ mark at this time. Around 1885 Fiolet went into partnership with his son-in-law, George Audebert, as Fiolet and Audebert. Fiolet died in 1892 and the firm operated as Audebert Fiolet from 1893 onwards. Fiolet pipes are said to be second only to Gambier pipes in quality, and the company was one of the most prominent French pipe manufacturers in the 19th century, having a base in France and a shop in London (Hammond, 1987). While we can’t include a picture of the example from the Amsterdam Pipe Museum due to copyright, you can view it by clicking on the hyperlink. The Amsterdam Pipe Museum example shows that the pipe was coloured, with the Indian attacker’s skin coloured brown, and the British woman and the baby’s skin painted pink. Presumably our pipe was also painted, but that decoration  has weathered off our pipe due to it being buried in the ground for over 150 years.

At the time of our interviews a year ago, while we had worked out that the pipe was inspired by the Indian Mutiny, and we knew that it was made by L. Fiolet, we didn’t know the details of the Bibighar massacre that inspired the pipe. Having read the account of that massacre, it shines a new light on the brutality of the pipe. At the time of our interview, we made reference to how the pipe speaks to the globalised nature of the 19th century, the pipe being a French made pipe, inspired by Indian historical events, found in New Zealand. But it’s only now that we have done the more detailed research, that a more nuanced view appears.

The first reports of the Siege of Cawnpore and the massacre of British civilians were embellished by shocking tales of rape, torture and mutilation. Nana Saib, with his role in the munity and the massacre, became known as the ‘Tiger of Cawnpore’. Nana was the face of the massacre for the British public, and as a result of that became a pop culture villain who was referenced in tales about savagery and resistance to British authority within the empire. Plays, ballads, stories and paintings were quickly produced, with the sentiment of ‘remember Cawnpore’ an underlying message (Wallace, 2015). It is highly likely that Fiolet, with their presence in London and their targeting of the British market, were influenced by the popular culture of the period to produce the pipe, with the smoking pipe just one of several pop culture artefacts depicting the events of the mutiny and massacre. The depictions of Nana and the massacre in popular culture acted as propaganda, which was used by the British to generate public support for the British response to the rebellion, as well as justification for some of the atrocities carried out by British soldiers.

The design of the smoking pipe highlights the British view of the mutiny, and of Nana Saib as the ‘Tiger of Cawnpore’. The Indian sepoy’s skin is coloured brown, he is wearing a turban and Indian dress, and is armed with an Indian style sword, all clear indicators of his race and position. The woman is bare breasted, her clothes pooling at her waist and her hair loose. Her skin is painted pink, a clear reference to her ethnicity as British, and her half-nakedness both symbolises her vulnerability and gives connotations of rape. The baby at her feet is also painted pink and is naked, emphasising its vulnerability. The scene of the pipe depicts the atrocity of the Bibighar massacre and the most horrific of the actions by the Indians at the Siege of Cawnpore and is clearly designed for the British narrative of the events. The choice to depict women and children as the primary victims of the mutiny, rather than the largely male-dominated East India Company and military power structures the sepoys were rebelling against, was a deliberate one, and can be seen as the weaponization of white femininity in defence of the (patriarchal, European) imperial power structures at play in India at the time. Of course, historical events are often filled with contesting views. If the pipe manufacturer had been influenced by the Indian sepoy perspective on the Siege of Cawnpore, then the pipe might show the sepoys attacking the British, or the British forcing the sepoys to lick blood off the walls of the Bibighar, or tying them to cannons to execute them. In the 21st century we can’t ignore the power imbalances created by colonialism and the impossible standards that disempowered people were held to, where there was never a correct means of resistance. But we can acknowledge this and acknowledge that the British also committed atrocities, while still viewing what was done to the British women and children as a horrific act.

For the Victorian British and the perspective that was created through depictions of the mutiny in popular culture, Nana was the embodiment of the nightmare of British imperialism and empire building. He represented “the latent treachery of all subject races, the rejection of British Progress, the destruction of the sacred family unit” (Wallace, 2015: 611). The rubbish pit in which our smoking pipe was found dates to the 1860s, around the year 1866. In 1860s New Zealand, the New Zealand Wars were being fought in Taranaki and Waikato. By understanding the history of the events that the pipe depicts, and the image of Nana Saib in Victorian popular culture as the Tiger of Cawnpore, one has to wonder if the pipe’s presence in Christchurch was intended as a warning to British colonists living in the city, a reminder of what the local population can do when oppressed. The pipe is more than an example of the global trade connections that existed in the 19th century, it’s a symbol of British imperialism and the consequences of that. And understanding that history, and the relevance of that history to our current day society, is the true treasure that archaeology can uncover.

Clara Watson


Hammond, P., 1987. The London Commercial Agents of French Clay Pipe Manufacturers Fiolet and Audebert Fiolet. Society for Clay Pipe Research Newsletter. 15: 16-21.

Wallace, B., 2015. Nana Sahib in British Culture and Memory. The Historical Journal. 58 (2): 589-613.


Messages from the bottles

Today’s blog is the last in our series on the St Asaph Street aerated water factory site (the first and second blogs in the series are available here and here). It comes as no surprise that we found a large amount of bottle glass at our aerated water factory site, along with plenty of other artefacts of course. In total we recovered 3653 fragments (NISP), which represented a minimum of 1206 artefacts (MNI/MNE), half of which were glass. Clara waded through this large assemblage and worked her usual magic to make some very cool interpretations. In this blog we will look at our commercial features and focus on what we can interpret from all that bottle glass. But first, let’s start off by looking at some attractive archaeology from the site.

Some good-looking rubbish pits!

Look at those layers! Anyone else craving tiramisu?

Soggy but still good.

A very cute pit with some complete black beer bottles at the base.

This pit had a curvaceous base. A good reminder that pits come in all shapes and sizes.

Look at all that bottle glass!

Two of our pits, which contained artefacts that were clearly connected with the commercial activities of the aerated water factory, contained artefacts that were manufactured in the 1860s or earlier, indicating these pits related to the earliest phase of the aerated water factory. Three pits were identified as relating to the operation of the soda water factory from the 1870s up to 1884, meaning they related to the operations of J. Milsom, R. and J. Milsom, J. Milsom and Co., and H. J. Milsom. Surprisingly, none of the pits related to the later phase of the aerated water factory when it was under the operation of Henry Mace. Much to my disappointment, we didn’t find even one bottle with Mace’s iconic dog head logo!

All of the aerated water bottles found in our commercial pits were broken. Based on the overall ratio of finishes to bases, it appears that bottles were thrown away already broken, rather than being complete but getting broken as they were thrown away. This isn’t particularly surprising as it would be poor management by the Milsoms if complete bottles, which could be cleaned, refilled, and sold again, were instead thrown out, especially when the only replacements had to be ordered and shipped from England.

Just a few of the many many broken torpedo bottle tops found at the site.

Torpedo bottles were the most common bottle that we found. Given that two of our pits dated to the 1860s, and the other three to the 1870s to early 1880s, this was expected, as the torpedo bottle was the main soda water bottle that was in use during that time. Lamont and Langely bottles, which are bottle styles that were patented in the latter half of the 1870s, appear in our later pits, indicating that the Milsom factory was keeping up to date with developments in the English bottle industry and was ordering in new bottle styles when they became available.

And now for the bases. Some of our torpedo bottles were very close to being complete, but there were also lots that were much more fragmentary than these.

Of the 439 non-alcoholic beverage bottles found at the site, 320 or 73% were not embossed, suggesting that the Milsom factory was mainly purchasing blank bottles and attaching paper labels. This was likely a cheaper and easier option than buying embossed bottles. Looking at the remaining glass soda water bottles that were embossed, some interesting patterns become apparent. Firstly, there are a range of different Milsom family soda water bottles across our pits, including bottles from G. P. Milsom, who was based in Kaiapoi, and R. Milsom, who was based in Lyttelton. It is possible that these bottles were accidentally returned to the wrong factory. Alternatively, it could be that these operations lent the St Asaph Street factory spare bottles when needed, or collected and reused any Milsom bottle, given the family connection. Somewhat surprisingly though, Milsom family bottles only made up a quarter of the embossed glass soda water bottles, despite the factory being owned and run by the Milsoms.

This table summarises the different aerated water manufacturers that were represented in our commercial pits, and how many times we found them.

A selection of J. Milsom and Co. Lamont patent bottles.

The only non-Milsom bottles that were from a Christchurch aerated water factory were two R. McPherson bottles. Robert McPherson ran an aerated water and cordial business on the corner of Cambridge Terrace between c. 1872 and 1887 (Christchurch Antique Bottle and Collectables Club Inc, 2022: 124). Both these bottles were located in the same pit. Interestingly, in the same pit we found 24 bottles from the Otago based Thomson and Co. factory. It was both illegal and frowned upon for aerated water factories to use another company’s trademarked bottles, although from newspaper articles we know that it did happen. If we assume that the Milsom bottles from the Lyttelton and Kaiapoi factories were probably used with the permission of those factories, given the family connection, then for the most part J. Milsom and Co. appear to have been very good at ensuring that they weren’t stealing another factory’s bottles. That the McPherson and Thomson bottles were all located within the one pit suggests that this use of other New Zealand factory’s bottles was restricted to a certain point of time, possibly a period when the Milsom factory were short on bottles. The pit that these bottles were in was filled sometime between 1878 and 1884, which is around the time that Henry J. Milsom took over the factory from his uncle. Could it be that Henry was not as ethical as his uncle, and was fine with grabbing some bottles from another factory, particularly if that factory was in a different city and thus probably less likely to be aware that their bottles had been stolen?

Just when you thought that you’d gotten away with a crime, some pesky archaeologist comes along and digs up the evidence some 140 years later.

In addition to the already described bottles, a range of British, and one Australian, soda water bottles were found in the commercial pits. Of these, Schweppes and Pitts bottles were the most common. This isn’t surprising as both these companies manufactured for the export market and their soda water was advertised as being available for purchase in New Zealand newspapers (New Zealand Herald, 22/11/1866: 2). Pitts and Schweppes likely exported their soda water on the assumption that the bottles would never be returned to them, given the physical and time constraints of doing so. Therefore, it makes sense that New Zealand aerated water factories would re-purpose their bottles meaning that the presence of these bottles at the site shouldn’t be viewed as the deliberate theft of another company’s bottles (unlike the McPherson and Thompson and Co. bottles). The Schweppes and Pitts bottles made up just under half of all of the embossed bottles, indicating that both companies were exporting to New Zealand in quite large quantities.

A few of the many Schweppes bottles from the site. And yes, if you were wondering if Schweppes was the same Schweppes that you can find on the supermarket shelves then it sure is- Schweppes basically pioneered the aerated water industry.

The remaining 7% of embossed bottles relate to five different soda water manufacturers. These were the Australian firm, W. G. Henfrey, and the British firms, Webbs, Norths, Street and Co., and R. Johnston. For the most part these companies didn’t advertise in New Zealand newspapers, suggesting that they weren’t really manufacturing for the export market. While these bottles show up occasionally on New Zealand archaeological sites, they’re not very common, which is to be expected if the companies weren’t typically targeting the New Zealand market. What is particularly interesting is that all of these bottles were found in the same pit at the site. This pit dated to the early 1860s, around the time that aerated water factory was established. It was the only pit that didn’t contain any Milsom bottles, and most of the Schweppes and Pitts bottles were found in this rubbish pit. The early date of this pit makes us think that it was probably created prior to Joseph Milsom ordering and receiving his own branded bottles. Jospeh Milsom’s factory was established at a time where there was only one other aerated water factory in Central Christchurch, meaning that there is unlikely to have been large supplies of surplus aerated water bottles in the city. It is possible that Milsom purchased his bottles when he first established his factory from a third-party bottle merchant that’s business model revolved around purchasing empty bottles from consumers, washing them, and selling them back to bottling factories.

We said that there’d be pictures of bottles, we didn’t promise that they’d be pretty pictures. These are the bottles used by British and Australian soda water manufacturers.

It would be reasonable to expect that a bottle-merchant operating in 1860s Christchurch would have amassed a collection of various bottles, particularly if they were purchasing empty bottles from ships coming into Lyttelton. Based on our research, the R. Johnston bottle found in the pit was manufactured at least 15 years prior to Milsom establishing his aerated water factory, indicating that the bottle had probably been in circulation for some time before it was purchased by Milsom. This gives further weight to our interpretation that the reason why all of these foreign bottles were in this one pit is that they’re just what Milsom had available to him when he started his factory. The fact that they don’t appear in the later pits and instead we start to see Milsom branded bottles shows that once Milsom had his own supply of embossed bottles, he mostly stuck to using either those or plain ones with labels.

Of course, another possibility was that Milsom intentionally imported a range of different soda waters into Christchurch as part of market research for developing his own product. Milsom might have deliberately ordered a range of British and Australian sodas to taste test, using the results to develop his own flavours. While we think that the former is probably the likely explanation, it’s always important to always be considering multiple interpretations (and of course the truth could be something that we haven’t even thought of).

In addition to considering the range of bottles identified, it is also worth considering what was missing from our site. Before we started our dig at the site, we thought that there was a high chance that we would find a large dump of Milsom branded bottles dating to when Henry Mace took over the factory. The Milsom bottles would have been surplus to Mace’s requirements, given that Mace both had his own branded bottles and, as we’ve already mentioned, it was illegal to use another business’s trade marked item. We thought that Mace probably would have dug a big pit and thrown out all of the Milsom bottles into it and that we’d get a heap of beautiful complete bottles. But no, he didn’t.  Instead, it seems likely that Mace paid for a dustman to remove the bottles, which were no doubt numerous due to the success of the Milsom factory. It also seems likely that Mace utilised a dustman regularly, as no bottles relating to his business were identified on site, and analysis of the domestic features suggest they all to relate to the Milsom era, rather than Mace.

Overall, our St Asaph Street aerated water factory site is of pretty high archaeological significance and the artefact assemblage includes some pretty rare pieces. While it is a bit disappointing that we didn’t get any complete bottles, this site shows we can pull just as much information from the fragments – Broken is still good!

Alana Kelly and Clara Watson


Christchurch Antique Bottle and Collectables Club Inc, 2022. Unearthed: Bottles of the Christchurch & District Soft Drink Industry 1860-1980. Christchurch Antique Bottle and Collectables Club Inc, Christchurch

Well Well Well

In early 2022 when I was asked if I would be keen to lead the dig at an aerated water factory site, I was pretty fizzed. It’s not every day that you get to work on this type of archaeological site, and having the chance to dive into the archaeology of a specific industry is always a good time – at least in my books. As you’ll see, our St Asaph Street site did not disappoint, and it certainly turned into quite the big job, with a total of 78 archaeological features being identified. For those interested in some quick stats we found 22 rubbish pits, five wells, two earthenware pipelines, an area of hydrocarbon staining (yuck), and a whole lot of post holes and piles. Together all of these features build up a brilliant picture of what happened at the site during the 19th and early 20th century. Today I’ll be focusing on wells and discussing what the five wells from our site can tell us.

If you want to get super technical, there are three basic methods of constructing a drinking well: dug, driven, and drilled. Dug is pretty self-explanatory, driven involves smacking a pipe into the ground, and drilled involves the use of specific drilling machinery. We see wells of all different shapes and sizes within the archaeological record here in Christchurch, and throughout wider New Zealand.

Most people would easily recognise the classic brick lined well. Typically, these beauties appear on our earlier Christchurch sites, as well sinking technology sharpened up in the late 1860s and early 1870s.

A yellow brick well found in central Christchurch. It was originally full of artefacts. Note the artesian on the left interior.

Sometimes we find unlined wells, although I’m not convinced these would be that great with Christchurch’s soft silty base. I know our Dunedin and Southland teams find these a bit more than us.

An unlined well uncovered in Invercargill. Photo courtesy of the Invers team.

Timber or barrel lined wells pop up from time to time.

A barrel lined well found by Hamish back in 2017 – what a cool find!

Less common, but still quite funky, are tube wells – a type of well made from a vertical earthenware pipe, easily comparable to the warp pipes in Super Mario.

Neda’s tube well and adjacent artesian (left), and Mario on a warp pipe/tube well (right). I see no difference.

But overall, the most common type of well we encounter is the trusty artesian. Artesian wells are long metal pipes sunk into the ground that tap into Christchurch’s underlying aquifer systems. Then, just when you think it can’t get any better, we find wells within wells. If you want to learn more about wells in general and Christchurch’s underlying aquifers, check out a blog written by our comrade Hamish here.

Three wells are better than one? The gorgeous well-inception uncovered at the Convention Centre.

Christchurch didn’t have a piped water supply until 1909, so settlers needed their own well to access fresh water. Given Christchurch’s swampy and riverine environment, they didn’t have to dig too deep to reach the pure underlying waters. This accessibility and quality is largely why Canterbury proved to be a popular location for aerated water factories. Between 1883 and 1923 there were more aerated water factories in Christchurch than Auckland, Wellington, and Dunedin combined, and it was said that in Canterbury there was a factory every 20 miles (Robson, 1995: 44). With all of this in mind, it comes as no surprise that we found five wells at our site.

The first artesian well (Feature 21) identified on site was actually found in the centre of a fairly large, and somewhat soggy, rubbish pit. These two features were located to the immediate west of the aerated water factory building, as outlined in the 1877 plan of the property. A convenient location, likely easily accessible through a side door. In contrast, these features fall within the boundary of the 1884 factory buildings (remember how Henry Joseph Milsom started the construction of new and extensive factory buildings in 1884) as shown in an 1899 survey plan. This indicates that our first artesian well relates to the earlier phase of the factory and was likely abandoned around 1884.

The large rubbish pit in which our first artesian well was found. Featuring Hamish in the background.

The exposed artesian well in the centre of the fully excavated rubbish pit. Featuring Tristan in the background.

Site plan showing the locations of artesian wells (light blue) and the brick-lined well (dark blue) in relation to building footprints. These are shown over the 1877 Strouts Map (underlying with infilled building footprints) and an 1899 survey plan (outline and dotted infill). In this plan we can see the location of Feature 21 to the immediate west of the 1877 factory building footprint, but within the footprint of the 1884 factory, which led us to identify that the well was probably abandonned in 1884 when the factory extension took place.

Analysis of the artefacts recovered from within the rubbish pit also support the abandonment of the well in this mid-1880s period, as they were determined to have a terminus post quem (earliest possible deposition date) of 1876. The location of the artesian in the centre of the rubbish pit is no coincidence. It is very likely that the formal cut of the surrounding rubbish pit represents a removed reservoir, tank, or structural base. If such a structure was removed, the remaining void would be ideal for an opportunistic rubbish pit, especially if you were undergoing renovations. As the recovered artefacts were commercial, relating to factory waste rather than domestic refuse, this seems pretty likely.

An artesian well with concrete reservoir trough, South Pasadena USA c. 1884. Source: University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society: calisphere.org/item/c381877653c774457691a8b6a3e95cc6/.

Interestingly, a series of circular post holes were arranged around our first well and its rubbish pit. I reckon these post holes represent one of three things.

  1. The footprints of the mechanical rig used to sink the well.
  2. The framing of a pump or rig feature, used to draw more water, possibly indicating things were drying up .
  3. A shelter or roof structure, not marked on the survey plan.

Without contemporary descriptions or photographs, it is difficult to determine what exactly these post holes truly represent. But we can say that they are evidence for some related structure or activity. So, it seems there are more to artesian wells that just a pipe in the ground.

Circular post holes surrounding our first artesian well and associated rubbish pit.

An example of a deep well sinking operation in Christchurch c. 1920. Image: [Artesian well sunk by McClure & Clemence, 31 Horatio Street, Christchurch]. Marks, J M fl 1905 :Photographs of Christchurch and environs, 1890s-1910s. Ref: 1/1-000456-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23243245

An advertisement in the 1879 Southern Province Almanac (p. 102). Note the “wind-power pump for raising water”.

The next two artesian wells (Feature 19 and Feature 20) uncovered, were found quite close together. These two wells were identified at the immediate rear (south) of the 1884 factory building, as shown on the 1899 survey plan. So, we can safely assume these two wells relate to that mid-1880s expansion and refurbishment of the factory. With the two wells being adjacent, it is likely that one was a replacement, tapping into a deeper aquifer as the former well ran dry. Grouped wells have been observed elsewhere in Christchurch, showing that people preferred to maintain the same function of a space within a backyard or property – likely for accessibility and convenience.

Our second artesian well (Feature 19). Note the cap on the top of the pipe, which helpfully stopped the site from flooding (a common occurence when a digger bucket hits an artesian pipe that often leads to much malaise for the contractors).

Our third artesian well (Feature 21) with the top part removed.

Unlike our first well, these next two artesian wells do not appear to have had a reservoir or tank, at least not one built into the ground. They also had no adjacent post holes to indicate supportive or installation structures. Some artefacts were recovered from around our second artesian well (Feature 19). The artefact deposit was less formal and less artefact dense than the one associated with our first well, and it was interpreted as relating to the removal of the upper portion of the second well during its capping and abandonment.

The last artesian well (Feature 39) was found on the eastern side of the site, somewhat away from the location of the various factory buildings. This makes me think that this well wasn’t associated with the factory, as it would be inefficient to carry water over by bucket and there was no evidence for a subsurface pipe to the factory footprint. I also wondered if it could represent a water trough for horses, however, the stables were located to the north, so this seems unlikely. Instead, it seems more likely that this well was installed in the early 20th century and utilised by Grummit White and Co who purchased the eastern half of the site in 1903.

What did I say- this is a  typical view of an artesian well once uncovered by a digger. Sometimes we don’t even see the pipe without wading into the pooling water.

Only one brick lined well (Feature 22) was found at our site and it was located to the south of our factory buildings in close proximity to a small two-bedroom cottage. This small cottage was built in c. 1862 by a Mr J. Flemming, who owned the eastern side of our site before it was purchased by the Milsom’s in the 1870s. It seems to have been a rental during Mr Flemming’s ownership but was likely utilised as workers accommodation following the Milsom purchase.

Excavation of the well found it was backfilled with sterile fill, and there were no artefacts in the fill at all (I was quite disappointed!). However, the bricks making up the well provided information of their own. The sample brick collected had a bulge on its face, within the frog. This bulge was interpreted as being evidence of a manufacture error, and possibly represented where an air pocket had formed in the brick while firing. It is likely that the brick was sold as a ‘second’ as a result of this. The letters “F R” were stamped on the brick’s frog. While the brick manufacturer using these initials is not known, they appear to have been active during the early-mid 1860s. Based on the age and location, we can safely say this well relates to the occupants of our wee cottage and that it wasn’t installed by the Milsom’s. While this well doesn’t directly relate to our factory, it does show a division of domestic vs commercial space within our site. It also shows change over time in relation to site activity and well technology and use.

Our only brick lined well uncovered at St Asaph Street.

Who doesn’t love a side profile of a well – gorgeous!

The “FR” stamped brick recovered from our lined well.

While wells are a pretty common archaeological feature here in Christchurch, and it might seem a bit self-evident that an aerated water factory would need its own water supply, the morphology and location of the wells on our St Asaph Street site is able to provide us with information on the aerated water industry and the growth and development of Milsom and Mace’s factory. An artesian well might just be a pipe in the ground, but the water that flowed through it would have been carbonated and, in some cases, flavoured, and then used to fill thousands of bottles with soda water that were enjoyed across the district, meaning that they were a pretty key component to Christchurch’s aerated water industry.

Just like that my wells have run dry. So, check in again next time when we will discuss the findings from our numerous rubbish pits. With both domestic and commercial rubbish pits found on site, we have some fascinating findings and interpretations to share. And finally, it wouldn’t be an aerated water factory without bottles – see you in two weeks.

Alana Kelly


Robson, P. E. W., 1995. A History of the Aerated Water Industry in New Zealand 1845-1986. New Zealand Soft Drink Manufacturer’s Association and AGM Publishing Ltd., Wellington.